When training camp began, Coyotes general manager John Chayka insisted the team would do what was best for Dylan Strome’s development, regardless of the expectations placed upon him as the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. On Monday, the Coyotes assigned the 20-year-old center to the Tucson Roadrunners and recalled forward Mario Kempe from their AHL team.
“He actually had a really nice camp,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said of Strome. “He’s just got to get a little quicker in his decisions, be a little quicker on the puck. That just comes with playing a lot.
“He’ll play in all different situations (in Tucson), playing the power play and the penalty kill, get his feet under him. He’s probably disappointed but we like where we’re going with him right now.”
Strome logged 11:46 of ice time against the Anaheim Ducks in Arizona’s season-opening loss, and 12:32 on Saturday in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. He had three shots on goal in the two games.
He was still fighting for a roster spot in the waning days of training camp, and Tocchet said he was looking for more consistency from him.
“I don’t even care where he’s been picked,” Tocchet said. “We want to make him a good hockey player. We think by him doing this he’ll become a better hockey player. We’re happy that we have him and we’re excited about his development.”
Kempe had 14 goals and 34 points in 56 games for the KHL’s Vityaz Podolsk in 2016. He said during training camp that he had lucrative offers to return to the KHL. Instead, he signed a one-year, minor-league contract with the Coyotes for $650,000 ($150,000 guaranteed in the AHL).
“I’ve been making some decent money in the KHL but when you start thinking your dream has always been playing in the NHL, that’s why I want to take this chance before it’s too late,” Kempe said. “It’s maybe my last chance to come over here and they gave this opportunity so I wanted to take it.”
Kempe impressed the Coyotes staff with his speed and skill level in training camp. He was one of the last cuts. When the Coyotes assigned him to Tucson, Tocchet made it clear that the NHL roster would be fluid and Kempe would likely earn a recall. Kempe had a goal and two assists in one game for the Roadrunners.
“He’s a very energetic guy and we need that,” Tocchet said. “He gets on pucks quick and he stops on pucks.
“I talked to him when he went down and said ‘stay positive.’ He played really well down there.”